I like stories like this. It's nice to hear about old crap becoming useful again. What kind of 486 CPU is in there? I wonder if they can overclock it a bit. Think of all the BIOS updates they can now upload!
NASA is cautiously optimistic that Hubble will soon be back in action following a boot-up of the space telescope's venerable 486 back-up system. Hubble was last month blinded by the failure of the Control Unit/Science Data Formatter (CU/SDF) in its operational Side A Science Instrument Command and Data Handling unit (SIC&DH), …
Presumably this isnt the intel i486, launched in 1989?
I very mush doublt if that would have made it onto hubble (launched in a very different waqy just a year later in 1990).
Thats not the sort of development cycle or part heritage that NASA (or any other space agency) would normally fly with.
A 486 still powers the laptop I use as a simple text console for my home server. Hasn't even got enough memory to run Windows! Works fine with DOS and a copy of Kermit though. Also still has a copy of Doom on it :-). Boots in seconds too. Ah, those were the days.
In fact my server is an AMD K6-2 and I have no plans on changing it.
I did retire the Pentium 133 some years ago though. I ran it as a router for a while, but it was bulky and draws a lot of power compared to home routers these days.
Was my first thought.
When are those components most likely to fail?
And what would be done if they failed their resilience testing?
My guess is that powering them up and down unnecessarily would be more likely to break them than leaving them sitting there and if they were found to be faulty there wouldn't be a lot that could be done about it.
> And some people think we need quad core monsters to write e-mails....meanwhile sapceships fly on ancient 486s.
The very succesful Viking Mars landers, and Voyager and Galileo deep space probes ran on RCA 8-bit processors (e.g. see http://www.economicexpert.com/a/CDP1802.html ). Your TV remote control probably has more processing power these days...
the 486-based "Advanced Computer" was installed as an upgrade in 1999 as part of Servicing Mission 3A. It appears this is a separate system to the SIC&DH system which contains the failed SDF module.
Windows 3.1 didn't have a Safe Mode (oh that it should have!). It had Real and Protected modes, which related to the way it accessed the CPU and stuff (think DOS vs virtualised modes etc), and possibly a third full 386 instruction compatible one but it's all such a long time ago and I can't be that bothered to Google it.
As for CPU heatsinks, I think they first appeared around the time that the clock doublers (486 DX2s et al) started to arrive...?
Ah it makes me laugh how people think it's funny that NASA use 486's
Fortunately it would seem that NASA still have talented assembly programmers that can write complex mathematical programs that require very few resources.
There is no reason why people that only write e-mails and use word/excel couldn't still use a 486, apart from the fact that every generation of windows becomes more bloated than the last.
I remember when I did a windows 3.1 installation on an AMD system (something like a K2-450?) just to see what would happen.
After typing win at the dos prompt and pressing ENTER, there was a click from the hard drive and the windows desktop appeared in probably around 0.5 seconds.......... and there are some people in the world today that think Vista is a good thing lol
...just the OS it had to run. The Hubble 486 won't be running anything as demanding as a Windows / linux OS.
Reminds me of the time my ex employer got a pentium class PC with a new version of some analytical software used to interpret chemical analysis spectra etc running in Windows 95. They plugged it into the kit and then discovered that it ran really slow.
They went back to the old 486 Pc running the old software in DOS, which did everything needed in a third of the time (they ran timed trials using recorded data just for fun)
Makes me wonder if we could go back to having some applications coded for DOS on modern multicore machines, just how fast would they churn out data?
In 1999 / 2000 I did a contract installing stuff for a County Council in the East Midlands.
As councils tend to be well behind the times in terms of what they will sign off for use they would only allow schools etc. to use Windows 3.11 on the desktop.
Win 3.11 on a PII/400 PIII/450 tended to boot like:
at about the speed you can read the above.
'What's the point in resilliency testing a system in space? It's sored in a cold vacuum, and can't gather dust or anything else that might cause damage.'
The temperature of space is not the most important factor; Hubble's orbit takes into the Earth's shadow and into direct sunlight so it is exposed to extremes of about -160C to 200C on a regular basis.
There are also resiliency tests needed to see how the hardware copes with the highly reactive monatomic oxygen you find around the Earth and for energetic particles trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, especially in places like the South Atlantic Anomaly where the Van Allen Belts come close to the Earth's surface.
"Real" and "386 Enhanced" modes. "Real" mode would run Windows on a 286, but they dropped it in Windows for Workgroups.
The net effect was whether you had virtual memory or not.
IIRC, of course.
As for DOS apps on modern machines, there are still people out there who swear that Wordperfect 5.1, a DOS app, remains the word processor of choice for serious work. I've seen the phrase "the most perfect program ever written" used to describe WP5.1.
And clever users have figured out how WP5.1 can utilize Windows printers & fonts, too!
My first PC was a 286 with a massive heatsink because, although it only ran at between 10-12 MHz, it was very hot. This was around 1987-88 I recall.
It had the full 1Meg of on-board memory and a huge 40 Mb hard disk!
Ventura and WordPerfect ran very fast on it too.
Ahhhhh ... bliss.
Hubble's lifespan was estimated at around 20 years before it was to be replaced. Considering the number of issues it has had over the years, even with extensive testing, it is amazing to see a seldom used CPU is still functional in such a hostile environment for so many years.
People are so wealthy now with all the storage and processing they have available. You may not believe this but the Hubble was originally launched in 1990 with an USAF DF-224 computer that had a whopping 32k of plated wire memory.
Yes, the HST was essentially using the equivalent of a Commodore VIC-20.
In the first servicing mission the computer was upgraded to run with a co-processor, a beast 386 with a meg of RAM. Talk about a jump. Going from 32k to a full Meg. it's like moving from a cardboard box to a mansion. This 486 with 6 times more memory that was installed in 1999 is sheer luxury.
"Makes me wonder if we could go back to having some applications coded for DOS on modern multicore machines, just how fast would they churn out data?"
I do it still, but not with DOS (yuck), but Linux booted in single user mode, level 3. First time I did it was in 2000, when I tried this for some phylogenetic analysis for my PhD. I didn't compare booting graphical versus CLI only in Linux, but I did run exactly the same analysis in CLI Linux and DOS. Linux was about 6-10 times faster, depending on which dataset I ran. CLI vs. graphical in Windows was quite some difference, although I don't remember exactly how much (more than 2x, I'm sure).
Processors aren't the only things that improved since Hubble was first launched. When the Space Telescope was originally launched, the Wide-Field/Planetary Camera, which provided the impressive pictures from it, included two image sensors built from four abutting 800 by 800 CCD arrays. At the time, a 2.5 Megapixel image sensor was really impressive. Today, a 10 Megapixel image sensor is something you can pick up in ordinary cameras that sell for a few hundred dollars.
If NASA's development cycles are comparable to the military's, then it's no wonder that they used a 486 as late as 1999.
When I was working in radio reconnaissance in 1991, manual position fixing was done with an Atari ST520. The new automatic position fixing system installed that year was either 8086 or 286 based (memory is a bit flaky). The analysts had some 8088 based computers with a non-COTS GUI that were installed just one or two years previously. Somewhere in a dusty corner was a mid-80s VAX installation that was never going to see service.
Posting anonymously, for obvious reasons.
I can attest to that.
Our 1986 Mac Plus was fully operational, and running System 7.1 way after its value had fallen below a Big Mac's price tag: 1999. The only reason it actually died was because of a power supply fault.
Our 1996 Performa is *still* chugging happily at my mom's home, running MacOS 8.
My only quirk with NASA using a 486 is that they used Intel. For that kind of stuff, shouldn't they had gone down the ARM way? Or maybe even MIPS...
The original equipment on Hubble is a computer called the DF-224. It is a
very old 8-bit computer with 64K CORE memory. It has proven very reliable
and works well but obviously it does not have much more processing capability
than most modern calculators.
googled it and got an old nasa discusion blog thingie
"This afternoon the team brought Hubble out of safe mode and placed the 486 computer back in control."
Hubble is running in safe mode.
This special diagnostic mode of Hubble enables you to fix a problem which may be caused by your network or hardware settings. Make sure these settings are correct in Control Panel, and then try starting Hubble again. While in safe mode, some of your devices may not be available.
To proceed to work in safe mode, click Yes. If you prefer to use System Restore to restore your Hubble to a previous state, click No.
Wonder if they tried to click no :)
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